By Elvia Kelly, Fort Stewart Public AffairsAugust 25, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga., Aug. 26, 2011 -- The plight of the Gold Star family is something close to home for Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Stewart. The program offers support services to families of Active, Reserve and Army National Guard Soldiers who have passed away. Its mission is to provide support services to families of the fallen for however long the family wishes. The term Gold Star is used for all family members of fallen Soldiers.
For Gold Star father, Willie Judon, he thought his family did not fit the criteria to receive services from Survivor Outreach Services, or SOS, or be involved in Gold Star programs. Judon, like most people, thought the program was available only to family members whose Soldier was killed in combat during a deployment.
"The program is here to provide support services for families and Soldiers of fallen service members," said Cheryl Sowell, SOS coordinator. "The fallen Soldier could have died for numerous reasons and SOS is here for them regardless of the circumstances."
In Judon's case, his youngest son Kenya K. Judon was killed in a single car accident. He was not aware that the SOS could assist them because his son died in a vehicle accident.
Kenya was a specialist with Hunter's Combat Aviation Brigade Detachment. He served as a paralegal specialist with a goal of becoming a lawyer. With his parents' permission, then 17-year-old Kenya joined the Army and soon after was stationed in Manheim, Germany. He was in training at Hunter to prepare for the upcoming deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom before the accident happened.
Judon is no stranger to the Marne Division. He was an armor crewman tanker with 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart from 1977 to 1979 and served with the "2nd of the 9th Calvary" at Stewart.
But it was not until SOS extended their support that he realized he could receive help and support. He knew then he was not alone.
"Cheryl (Sowell) contacted us and provided information about Gold Star families and the SOS program," Judon said. "Survivor Outreach Services also sent us a schedule of survivor events to keep us informed."
"It's not just my job to assist families, but it is something I feel I'm good at," Sowell said. "I believe in this program and what we do. Anything survivors need like answers to questions or sometimes just to listen, Meghan Page, SOS Financial Counselor and I are here for them."
"I have heard many survivors say that they felt like the military has left them behind and turned their back on them," Sowell said. "Our purpose and main goal is to make sure they stay connected and that they are still part of the military family for as long as they want to be."
Judon said that speaking with SOS coordinators helps him feel that it keeps his son's memory alive.
"When my son died, I had never felt this kind of hurt before. Some people said that you can never get over it," he said. "The SOS program helps me stay focused and see the better side. Instead of the hurt, I feel the gratitude. The Gold Star recognizes the fallen Soldier, and I get the good memories from that."
The Judon family attended the Warrior's Walk Memorial Ceremony during the summer. He said that it brought his family together, not just his family but every Gold Star family as one family.
"We had a nice time," he said. "We went out to eat. We all came together for a good cause, something positive. Survivor Outreach Services has been helping me find my way."
Sowell said that SOS cares and promises one thing -- "we won't give the families the run-around."
"When there is a question, we will give a definitive answer," she said. "If they do not have an answer, they will find an answer."
For more information about the Fort Stewart SOS Program or Gold Star families, contact 912-435-9761 or 912-435-9598.